In the supporting role is the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, who is also frequently referred to by his first name. He is plodding, possessed of antique leftist notions and yet, by virtue of extreme fecklessness and unpredictability, useful for generating that gripping sense that anything might happen.
Every day, surrogates and pundits appear on BBC Radio’s marvelous news shows. “Boris has promised this . . . ” “Jeremy has made it clear that . . . ” Cue hysterical giggles from listeners at home, who know that Boris Johnson’s promises are for naught and that Jeremy is never clear on anything.
In Season One of the Brexit drama, a sensible prime minister, Theresa May, negotiated a Brexit deal that Boris and his buddies scuppered. It was a bad deal, to be sure, but the exquisite tragedy of May was that the deal was also the best one possible. By keeping Britain in the European customs union, it avoided introducing destabilizing border checks between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. By enabling just-in-time delivery of auto parts, the deal also avoided throttling Britain’s car industry. It was far less good than remaining in the European Union, but May’s deal was respectable.
No matter. The Brexity right wing of the ruling Conservative Party wants out of the European customs union. They have a witty rationale for this: They wish to exit the deepest trade deal in the world so that they can negotiate less good ones. Up is down, more is less, and the Ministry of Truth does propaganda. Anyway, the right defenestrated May and installed Boris.
Now, in Season Two, the plot thickens. Boris arrives in office with a bang. A neighbor records him and his lover in a shouting match. There are press stories about an apparent ex-lover. To silence his opponents, he hoodwinks the queen into illegally suspending Parliament, but then the courts slap him down. He loses his majority in Parliament. Even his brother-cum-campaign manager deserts him.
But don’t count Boris out. Having earlier ruled out the idea of customs checks between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain — akin to checks between Hawaii and California — the prime minister performs a deft double back flip and lands in the opposite position. The European Union, which Boris and his ilk portray as ruthlessly implacable, quickly accepts. Customs inspections within the United Kingdom become the center plank of a new Brexit deal: so much for Brexiteer talk about putting the “Great” back into Great Britain. Then, unlike the hapless May, Boris wins a majority for his deal in Parliament.
Of course, the story isn’t done yet. While approving Boris’s deal, Parliament rejects his accelerated timetable for passing it. Ever the statesman, Boris throws his toys out of the crib and demands an election. Again, note the brilliant flash of humor here. Boris is proposing complex legislation that will affect Britain for a generation or more. But only if it can be jammed through Parliament in three days. Very Monty Python.
Up next, the Jeremy factor. In the three years since the Brexit referendum, the Labour leader has contrived to avoid taking a position on the biggest political debate in memory. Cheekily, he got into politics without any intention of taking political positions, except when it comes to standing up for leftist thugs who hate American imperialism. Two-thirds of Britons tell pollsters that Labour’s position on Brexit is “a mystery to me.”
On the question of Boris’s desired election, Jeremy is masterfully inscrutable. He wants one, of course, because red-blooded opposition parties are always hungry for a shot at office. He fears one, naturally, because polls show that his schemes to nationalize industry, plus his squirming on Brexit, have combined to alienate voters. Fully 71 percent of respondents in one poll said he was doing a bad job. Only 16 percent approved of him.
So where does the plot go next? Will Jeremy agree to Boris’s call for a vote, or will he do a sphinx on him? And will those perfidious Europeans continue to show bottomless patience and keep extending Britain’s deadline? Boris might yet betray another of his supposed principles, and Jeremy might set a new land record for sitting on fences. Tune in for the next episode!
Oh, just one thing. This is not just television.